Milton Keynes Lightning confirmed their spot as runners-up in the English Premier League after a dramatic finish saw them snatch a 4-2 victory at Hull Pirates after two periods of goalless hockey on Sunday.
Twenty four hours earlier the city side’s slim chances of winning the title disappeared when they suffered one of their heaviest defeats of the season – losing 6-2 at Swindon Wildcats while top of the table Telford Tigers secured the championship with a 7-3 victory against Bracknell Bees.
It means that Lightning will avoid Telford in the newly re-introduced group stages of the play-off competition – the format replacing the straight knock-out one of the past few years. The top two teams from each of the two groups will proceed to the semi-finals and finals weekend at Coventry.
At Hull the first goal did not come until 4mins 19secs into the final session with Pirates’ Andrej Themar registering. Lightning levelled thanks to Milan Baranyk, assisted by Farn and captain Adam Carr on 53mins 50secs.
Two goals in the space of 47 seconds then put the visitors in the ascendancy as Craig Scott supplied Lewis Hook to fire home after 56mins 3secs.
Hull had no time to recover before Mikolaj Lopuski made the pass for Antti Hölli to extend the gap to two goals at 56mins 50secs.
When James Griffin was sin binned by referee Andrew Miller for delaying the game at 58mins 40secs Hull took withdrew netminder Vlastimil Lakosil in favour of the extra skater and 36 seconds later Ugnius Cizas gave the hosts hope.
However Antti Hölli put Carr away to score on the empty net with two seconds remaining to secure the 4-2 win.
Earlier Pirates were handed a powerplay opportunity after only 3mins 21secs as Lewis Christie was sent to the sin bin for delaying the game – seconds after Leigh Jamieson had seen his fine attempt thwarted.
Having outshot Hull 16-7 in the first session Frankie Bakrlik saw his shot spilled by Lakosil in the middle session but Hook couldn’t capitalise on the rebound.
Hölli was next to test the Pirates stopper but his fierce effort went over the bar and hit the Plexi ahead of Baranyk going solo but a deflection directed the shot away from the danger area.
Lakosil was forced into making a glove save when James Neil unleashed a rocket shot ahead of Bakrlik and Lopuski both testing the goalie.
Despite the pressure MK could not find a way through at this stage and the second period ended in the same way as the first with the game still scoreless.
That all changed with Hull’s opener from Themar which signalled the rousing final quarter of an hour.
Short-benched Smith Recycling MK Lightning were without suspended Bakrlik at Swindon on Saturday and thus were forced to play with only four imports – Baranyk also sitting out the game.
They quickly found themselves a goal behind when Robin Kovar scored after only 1min 32secs.
Ninety seconds or so later Wildcats’ Toms Rutkis was thrown out of the game for boarding Carr who was temporarily forced out of the action. That gave MK a five minute powerplay from which Lightning equalised just one second before its expiry – Scott and Farn having a hand in Blaz Emersic’s strike on 8mins 4secs
The visitors began the middle session with a man advantage thanks to a penalty call on Ben Nethersall for delay of the game and they took advantage with Hook on the mark – aided by Hölli and Lopuski.
Swindon soon got back on terms at 22mins 25secs –Michael Stratford beating past goalie Przemy Odrobny.
Two minutes and three seconds later Odrobny was retrieving the puck from the net again when Wildcats struck for a third time – this time through Jordan Kelsall. It was the last of the action for the Polish stopper who was replaced by Jordan Hedley.
Lightning’s task became more difficult after Tom Carlon was sin-binned for hooking in the 47th minute – on the powerplay Kovar made it 4-2 on 48mins 44secs.
The hosts then scored short-handed through Tomasz Malasinski at 52mins 8secs. Lightning’s fate was sealed with Wildcats’ sixth goal– Malasinski again on target with a wrap around goal on 54mins 30secs.